It’s the holiday season in the US and people are making recommendations for whisky related gifts. As my preferred stocking stuffer has always been coal I thought I would help instead by making some suggestions to whisky retailers to make online shopping less annoying. As I shop predominantly in the US this list is largely restricted to the practices of American retailers, and if some of the names I mention are less familiar it’s because they are stores in Minnesota. And I don’t mean to pick on the few stores I name–most of these issues are widespread, but I’ve encountered them myself at these stores. It goes without saying that almost all these retailers are in fact very helpful and when you call them it’s very easy to sort things out and get personalized help. But with a proper online store that shouldn’t be necessary.
I know this is a highly unoriginal list of complaints and also a highly unoriginal genre of blog post. But it’s maddening that so many of these problems persist in 2013.
The immediate impetus for this post is a recent annoyance and so let’s lead with that in this incomplete list. Because it is, as you know, all about ME! ME! ME!
1. It is really cool when retailers link to their inventory in their online store, showing you how many bottles of any particular expression are left. It’s much cooler, however, when this online inventory actually has some positive relationship with real inventory. There are numerous stores around the country that claim to show live inventory but when you place the order it turns out they don’t actually have what you wanted. And when you talk to someone they tell you that they’re well aware of the discrepancy between online inventory and actual inventory. Gah!
(Some culprits: D&M, Hitime.)
2. A specialized subset of the above: please don’t list your distributor’s theoretical inventory as inventory in stock if it’s not actually in stock in your store/warehouse. It’s nice to know what you might be able to get; it’s nicer to know what you actually have. And if your actual store inventory is smaller than what’s available online make clear what’s not available in-store. Many local customers come to your store to look for things they’ve seen on your site.
(Some culprits: Merwin’s, Wineoland)
3. Don’t list out of stock items, and certainly don’t list them in the same view as in-stock bottles. It makes your listings look more impressive than they are, yes, but they also make purchasing at your store highly annoying.
(Culprits: Too many to list, but locally South Lyndale Liquors is particularly culpable.)
4. Actually list everything you have and put things in the correct categories so they can be found easily.
(Culprits: for the former, Astor Wine who only display 100 bottles–to find everything you have to search by region–and Surdyk’s who don’t list many of their premium bottles on their website; for the latter, every store that randomly puts some single malts among blends.)
5. Allow proper sorting of your listings already, it’s goddamned late 2013. Allow me the option of displaying all your whisky on one screen and let me sort it by name and price; allow me to filter the list by distillery and bottler and age and vintage. Of course, all this means that you should populate your database properly.
(Culprits: almost everyone in the US)
6. Please list all pertinent details of the whisky. At a minimum you should list the abv, the cask no. and type, and distillation and bottling years (where relevant and available on the label). For batch/annual releases like the Laphroaig 10 CS or Lagavulin 12, please note the batch version/release year.
(Culprits: almost everyone in the US, though the Party Source, who no longer ship, are an exception.)
7. Don’t list irrelevant information, like random tasting notes that some minion at your store has cut and pasted in from the web or some generic verbiage that comes with the software you use.
(Culprits: all the stores that publish the wonderfully informative tasting note that reads “This is not your average Scotch drink. It still has the familiar taste of your average Scotch and water but with a little extra flavor.”; cut and paste reviews of different bottles used to be a problem at the Party Source, but this seems to have gotten better.)
8. Don’t try to convince me that your prices are great by comparing them to theoretical prices that no one actually charges. And don’t tell me your prices are the best in the country when a simple glance at Wine Searcher reveals otherwise.
(Culprits: too many to mention.)
9. Don’t send me emails every day telling me about some great deal. Promoting frenzy among buyers is a very short-term sales model; it leads very quickly to exhaustion. And it comes around and bites you in the ass when long-term customers realize that many of those “Buy now! Buy now!” bottles stick around for a year or more and end up getting discounted. Also: bubble.
(Culprit: K&L most spectacularly.)
Are there things I’ve missed? Retailers who’re particularly good in some of these areas that others should learn from? Are there any stores in the US who pass all these tests?